‘…A Splash Quite Unnoticed…’

The fulcrum of the flabby weight of Rangers season previews balances sloppily on the spongy troubles of the past months — the sleazy acquisition of the Argentine Alejandro Faurlin and ensuing points-penalty scare, the greedy money grab in the would-be-funny-if-it-wasn’t-so-sad ticket-price increases, and the dysfunctional and unsightly owners’ decision to count pennies when not defending themselves from unseemly criminal accusations or flogging the club to any Asian-born magnate with a million pounds to spend. It makes for interesting reading, perhaps, but nothing that really matters in the coming months.


The real question is, Can Q.P.R. last in the Premier League. And the initial presumption, of this experiment, anyway, is, No, it can’t.

The veteran players brought in this season as reinforcements — D. J. Campbell, Danny Gabbidon, Kieron Dyer and Jay Bothroyd — are capable, if creaking, castoffs that few teams showed interest in. Campbell, who is apparently making something of a career out of joining newly promoted teams, and Bothroyd, whose cap for England last year drew widespread pans, are probably the most of important of these mercenaries. They will be the object of Rangers’ brash young midfielders, the gifted Faurlin and Adel Taarabt, a talented and arrogant Moroccan who everyone, except the coach of his national team, thinks is possessed of great potential. Synergy among these four players — expect Faurlin to eclipse Taarabt — will probably be the club’s surprising strength.

On defense, Rangers were improved last season in the Championship, if occasionally ragged; they allowed only 32 goals in 46 games, by far the best in the league. On paper, defense is probably a team strength. Goaltender Paddy Kenny and defensive midfielder Shaun Derry are among the best returning players, but they have very little top-tier experience. It is hard to tell how such untested players will fare over a whole season in the Premier League. Indeed, Manager Neil Warnock has tried to buttress the lineup with experience rather than quality. But had Rangers not been promoted, the smart bet would have been on their defense regressing to the mean. How the addition of Gabbidon and Dyer will affect that presumed slide is perhaps the biggest unknown.

Down to brass tacks: Oddsmakers place Q.P.R. at the head of the clot of teams that takes shape after eighth place in the standings; our Premier League preview nests them precariously in 12th. But it is unwise to imagine such a high-altitude flight. More to the point, it will probably take 38 points (1 per week) to avoid relegation. (Only three times in the past 10 years has that not been enough.) There are probably eight teams in the Premier League that are seriously difficult nuts to crack, which means 16 of the 38 regular-season games will yield no more than a point, and less than that on average. Even so, there are probably enough points lying around at the bottom of the table — i.e., Norwich, Swansea, Wigan and Wolverhampton — for Rangers to survive if they avoid losing games they should win. But how often in life do things go according to plan?

Q.P.R. is roundly viewed by the oddsmakers as a poor bet for relegation, but a larger, and far more important, consideration is its long-term prospects. It is true that no matter how Rangers’ mercurial ownership question is resolved, they will be led by some of the world’s richest men. But the team also has an absurdly small and ill-equipped stadium and few other sustaining, independent sources of revenue in London, a saturated soccer market. Given its already ragged finances and the soon-to-be enforceable league rules on debt — clubs will have to break even over rolling three-year periods — Q.P.R. is more aptly suited to be one of the Championship’s elite clubs, if an occasional Premiership bottom feeder.

To wit, there may be a few flashes of Q.P.R.’s silvery scales visible from the Premier League’s surface, but sooner or later Rangers will fade from view.